The Masters 2023: What does it mean for LIV?

Jon Rahm won The Masters with an improbable comeback on April ninth, coming back from a four stroke deficit to claim the green jacket with a four-stroke victory in Augusta, Georgia. The Spaniard brought home Spain’s sixth green jacket and its first since Sergio Garcia in 2017. With the win, Rahm became the first European golfer ever to win both the Masters and the U.S. Open, which he won in 2021 at Torrey Pines, California. 

The issue of LIV Golf and its players who were playing at the Masters is an ongoing topic. LIV Golf is a Saudi-funded golf league that was announced in 2019. It is funded through the Public Investment Fund, which is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. In 2021 former professional golfer Greg Norman was named CEO. Controversy immediately damaged LIV because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses as the nation was criticized for its repressive image. The golf league was considered as “an opportunity to reinvigorate golf,” in the eyes of the Saudis. 

However, the controversy in the golf world is that LIV was actively, and openly, recruiting PGA players with ludicrous offers “of blood money” that went as high as $800 million. These preposterous contracts were meant to lure stars away while drawing fan attraction with bold marketing, such as one of their slogans, “Golf but louder.” 

Rory McIlroy, along with Tiger Woods, were very vocal in the midst of this chaos in 2022, both expressing how they disagree with other golfers’ decisions to abandon the PGA Tour. For the PGA Tour and the golf world as we know it, this was a direct attack to the integrity and the nature the game was built on. 

Rahm’s win propelled him to the world number one ranking, but it also sent shockwaves through the industry. Brooks Koepka, a member of the LIV Golf League, choked what was nearly a sure win for his first green jacket. Koepka had a lead for 54 holes heading into Sunday morning, but his four stroke lead going into the day vanished as he struggled mightily on the ultimate day. He had held the lead since Thursday afternoon and was up by two-strokes leading into the final 18 holes. Unlike Rahm, Koepka struggled with the pace of the greens on the final day and posted six bogeys from the 8th in Round 3 to the 13th in Round 4. 

Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed, two former Masters winners, are also part of LIV. The 52 year-old Mickelson finished tied with Koepka for second place. Even though Mickelson is a three-time green jacket winner, his performance was still unexpected given his poor form on the LIV Golf circuit. For the 2018 winner Reed, he finished tied for fourth with Jordan Spieth and Russell Henley at seven under. For LIV, this may seem like a success given their notorious reputation for disrupting the golf world.

However, the argument stands that their players’ performances at the Masters only worsens the league’s character. Of the 18 LIV players, 12 made the 36-hole cut and only four missed the cut while two were forced to withdraw. Koepka, Mickelson and Reed’s performances cannot be overlooked at all. Chile’s Joaquin Niemann tied for 16th. What stands out about Koepka’s collapse is the fact that it was his first time playing a 72-hole event since the 2022 U.S. Open 10 months ago. LIV events are only 54-hole events. This could point to Koepka’s subpar play on the final 18 holes. 

Other LIV members did not have the same success however. Cameron Smith, the reigning Open Championship winner and current number five ranked player in the world, finished tied for 34th at +4. Meanwhile the inaugural 2022 LIV Golf Individual champion, Dustin Johnson, was tied for 48th at +8. Past Masters winners Garcia, Bubba Watson and 2020 U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau missed the cut. 

The idea that the Masters would give LIV more publicity, whether positive or negative, is true. A few of their big signees played extraordinarily well, but most of their players did not. If anything the performances from Koepka and Reed re-emphasizes the “what could have been” for the golf world. Instead of seeing Koepka, a four-time major championship winner, create storied-rivalries in the illustrious PGA Tour, he now competes with mediocre players. Cameron Smith openly admitted that the fields in LIV are not as strong or deep as the PGA Tour’s. Smith also argued that if a LIV member won the Masters, it would help quiet the media’s criticism. 

Another issue with LIV is the fact that their best, highest paid players are not thriving, even in the inferior league. In the LIV Golf prize money standings, Garcia sits at 13th, Niemann at 20th, and DeChambeau is 22nd. Mickelson is all the way down at 39th while Bubba Watson is tied for 72nd with only $316,500. The only four in the top ten are Johnson in 1st, Reed in 4th, meanwhile Koepka and Smith are 9th and 10th respectively. Each of the members have played mainly 6-10 LIV events, with Watson only having played two. 

The lack of success from the previous PGA Tour players come off as shocking considering their illustrious achievements. It appears the LIV players only care about the four majors which are the PGA Championship, U.S. Open, the Open Championship, and the Masters. It seems they are fine with just taking their money and coasting in the LIV events. 

PGA of America issued their 2023 eligibility requirements in February 2023 which allowed the LIV defectors to play in all four majors in 2023. By allowing these players in the majors it kept the field extremely competitive and captivating. 

The PGA needs the competitiveness to remain. It promotes media attraction and creates storylines between rivalries within the field. Now those storylines only remain in the majors, not in the near yearlong PGA Tour. Essentially, the LIV players benefit from this because they can make more and play less, which could help with keeping themselves healthy. However, Koepka’s disastrous play down the final stretch shows one of the flaws with LIV. The 18 hole difference clearly played a factor in slowing down Koepka. This may foretell a common problem for the rest of the LIV members given the fact that each of the majors are played in a 72-hole format.